What Are the Best Strategies for College Counselors? | James Wickenden | 2 Min Read

In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, we learned that the acceptance rates at the Ivy League universities were the lowest on record.  Specifically, Harvard accepted 3.4%, Columbia 3.7%, Princeton 4%, Yale 4.6%, University of Pennsylvania 5.7%, Dartmouth 6.2%.  The article did not provide information on the acceptance rates at Cornell or Brown.  Based solely on these data, college counselors at public and independent schools will be confronted by angry parents and disappointed students many of whom had excellent credentials.  Having been the Dean of Admission at Princeton University from 1978 to 1983, I readily admit that I am not familiar with the current admissions policies of the aforementioned institutions.  Nonetheless, I feel confident in stating that two-thirds of those who were just admitted to the Ivy League universities had impeccable academic credentials.  If true, the competition for students aspiring to Phi Beta Kappa, Rhodes, and Marshall scholarships, and other prestigious awards for academic excellence will be fierce.

Given the significant uptick in applications to highly selective universities, the following recommendations to college counselors might enable them to ease the pain their students feel after learning that they have been denied admission to one or more institutions for which they were qualified.

First, college counselors should advise their students that if they aspire to earn a Ph.D. in one of the academic disciplines, apply to medical or law schools, or aspire to enter the world of finance, computer science, or consulting, the chances of their achieving these goals would be greater if they matriculated at an institution of higher education in which they are likely to graduate in the top 20 percent of the class, as opposed to graduating without honors from one of the Ivy League institutions.

Second, for those applicants who were not admitted to an institution that had an admit rate of under 10 percent, college counselors could incentivize these students to do well at the college in which they matriculate in order to position themselves for admission to a graduate school program affiliated with the institution that initially denied them admission.

Third, college counselors should work with their students to research the percentage of undergraduates from the colleges that offered them admission to determine how these institutions fare in preparing their students for graduate school.  For example, when I was the Dean of Admission at Princeton eons ago, I learned that many liberal arts colleges had a higher percentage of their graduates pursuing Ph.D. programs than Ivy League institutions.

Fourth, persistence matters.  Students who were put on the waiting list for the highly selective colleges could give serious consideration to pursuing a gap year to engage in an activity that would distinguish them from other candidates. That being said, this activity should be special and must be described in detail when completing the application forms.

Finally, college counselors working with talented and successful students who are applying to the most selective colleges should use the resources of their school to ensure that the Secondary School Reports are informative, well written, and make a persuasive case for admission.

Jim Wickenden

Jim is a Principal at DRG and Founder of Wickenden Associates, an affiliate of DRG. Having been the CEO of one of the premier education executive search firms in the United States, Jim brings unparalleled experience and networks to best serve clients.With over 30 years of experience identifying and guiding Heads of Schools and other senior administrators of schools across the country, Jim approaches each search with flexibility and openness that responds to the individual needs and concerns of schools and their leaders.Before founding Wickenden Associates, Jim served as the Dean of Admissions at Princeton University and Director of Student and Alumni Affairs at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. A graduate of Tabor Academy and Princeton University, Jim holds a master’s degree in Counselor Education from Rutgers University, a master’s degree in the General Purposes of Education from Harvard University, and a doctorate in Counseling Psychology from Boston University.As a former member of eight boards of independent schools with a wide range of missions and resource levels, Jim also knows firsthand the responsibilities shouldered by today’s trustees; and knows how to guide boards through tough transition processes and on good governance practices.Jim lives in Princeton, NJ, and when he is not at the office he enjoys reading enlightening books.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *